These are show notes from our podcast episode #2 An Education Revolution. Please have a look through our podcasts – listen and share here.
Syd takes us through ideas that inspired her and activities she had thus incporated to her STEM Workshops Business, Femtinos, pre-covid. Syd then continues to discuss the thought process behind UK Virtual School and why she believes a much needed revolution is needed in the educational sector.
“Times are changing and education is evolving. I want to touch on different schooling systems that I’m aware of, and those that influenced the way that I teach and deliver – the way that we’ve structured UK Virtual School.
I’m not Montessori trained.
I’ve just heard of it -it sounds like a fun interactive hands-on way of learning, a bit like how I ran my science workshops at Femtinos (pre-covid).
The Montessori method is one which is very popular amongst home educating families. The idea and concept behind focuses around learning through play. There’s a lot of equipment and materials that you can purchase to allow your child to learn through hands-on approaches. The one thing that really had me interested about the Montessori method was the fact that the kids were mixed ages. In one particular class, you would have multiple different age groups together, working and creating a collaborative environment. And this is what inspired me to do the science workshops the way that I did.
Steiner schools are very popular for people looking for an alternative way of learning, but still wanting to send their kids to school.
I’d visited a Steiner school a couple of years ago. And I was really inspired by the way that they run their sessions.
They started off with creative sessions in the morning and would have academic sessions later on in the day. This didn’t overwhelm the kids. Even the academic sessions were quite creative. I recall looking through some science work that the kids had completed and they’d drawn their own images of hearts, body parts, and organs and labeled and coloured them. The kids were very well-rounded. I recall speaking to a few of them and they were well-spoken and able to share their thoughts in a coherent manner. It made me think, what is it that the school is doing differently here? One of the things was that the kids were happy, they enjoyed what they did. They saw purpose in it. They were doing things where they saw a result and they saw the purpose to their learning. So I incorporated some of that into my teaching. Whenever we talk about a science topic at Femtinos, I made sure that we talked about careers.
Why UK Virtual School?
I had lots of experience working with home educating families, 10 years of experience, before I started UK Virtual School. I wanted to create something for the home educating community because I know there are some families that still like the idea of their kids covering curriculum content. They might send their kids back to school in the future (and hence want to give their children the option of fitting back into classes) or they want them to do GCSEs at some point and actually go to university in the UK (and thus want to cover the foundations to give them a headstart). So how could I take everything that I knew about the education system, everything that I realised was wrong with the education system – how could I take all of that learning and create a unique experience for homeschooling families?
When UK virtual school was born, we took a lot of feedback from parents. The one thing that I’d learned with teaching online was that Zoom fatigue was real. When you’ve spent too much time on Zoom, in front of a screen, it’s exhausting. It used a lot more energy because you had to be really energetic. It meant that you needed time out. So I thought, how can we create a system where it allows kids and teachers to have a break? The Solution – shorter terms.
The idea of a three-week half term was born. We start our very first lesson on the first Monday of the month and we run for three weeks at a time. The fourth week is our week off from timetable. From September, we’re going to be doing some community stuff on the fourth Monday, but the rest of the week is off timetable and is off for the kids. They can take a break, they can go on holiday, they can do other activities, they can have fun, they can be away from screens. I do think it’s important that kids have time away, working on their dexterity skills, on their face-to-face skills and all the other things that they should be doing as well. Online schooling is just one small aspect of education and it should be used in that way. This was a really big step to actually have a half term that was only three weeks at a time, as it turns the concept of traditionally schooling upside down. It caused a lot of confusion at the start of the year when we first started, but now, families have become accustomed to it. The feedback has been always positive.
The other thing that I wanted to ensure was there was flexibility.
Traditional schools are very rigid.
You can’t take time off, you’ll fall behind.
If you’re ill, you’ll fall behind.
I wanted to make sure that parents had flexibility if they were going to come to us. How could we offer that flexibility? We decided to offer different types of classes. We know that some kids don’t want to interact with the teacher – they have anxiety or they prefer working on their own, which is completely fine. We all learn differently.
So we have, essentially, webinar-style classes as well. They’re live, but there’s no interaction. We call these classes one-way stream.
Then there are interactive classes, where you can speak to the teacher and you can speak to the other kids – your audio and your camera are utilised. These classes work in different ways, but the content is the same as the one-way stream.
Parents can either opt for interactive classes or they can opt for one-way stream classes and the content is going to be exactly the same. The only difference is one has interaction and the other one doesn’t.
We then take the videos that we record from the one-way stream, they get edited.
They’re available for playback.
That means if you’ve missed a class, you can always catch up. I think that’s really important. Kids fall behind easily, especially if they’ve been ill or they’ve been away from school for whatever reason. They’ll have some time at the end of the month during the break to be able to do that.
We also do daily classes. We actually don’t record daily classes because they’re every single day and so you’re working at a much faster pace than you would if you only had one or two classes a week. Daily classes run from Monday to Friday for three weeks in a month. They are short, sharp, content-based and it allows the teachers and the students to really get to know each other. I think it’s a fab way, especially for very young kids when they’re still trying to get into a routine, it’s a great way for them to learn new techniques and new habits.
You don’t mark homework? How do you assess progress?!
The final thing that I wanted to talk about, that I think is really needed in the education system, is to take away assessments, testing, and marking.
For starters, there’s been lots of research done that says homework doesn’t really help kids. We do set homework at UK Virtual School but the difference is we don’t mark it. Instead, the kids bring the homework into their class. The teachers will ask them questions to try and understand what their understanding level is on that particular topic. I think this is really important than just marking a correct answer as it allws teachers to understand whether they’ve understood the concepts and correct any misconceptions.
The UKVS Community
At UK Virtual School, it’s about building those relationships with the kids. The teacher knows the kids really well. We keep our class sizes really small. I think this kind of approach could really be rolled out across other schools, offline and online. Traditional ways of teaching could also incorporate this, but not until there’s a big educational revolution.
The current education system is outdated.
It’s not designed for the modern world.
I think it harnesses a different type of energy. Kids get used to sitting exams, kids get used to sitting assessments, they get used to competing with each other and they don’t utilise their imagination and their innovation skills that much.
What we need in the modern world is innovation, creativity, thinking outside of the box. This is why growth mindset and innovation are two of our core values.
An Educational Revolution
At UK Virtual School, I believe we are setting an educational revolution in motion.
We’re taking small steps, but they’re bold steps.
It takes time to explain to families what we do and what we’re trying to achieve. As the years roll by, we’re going to get bolder and bolder and introduce different ways of doing things.
Join us, as we become known as the #SchoolThatThinksDifferently
Founder of UK Virtual School
Podcasts are accessible to many families due to the number of platforms hosting them – and you don’t have to be enrolled to listen and be able to relate! The content covered is just as much of a learning journey to everyone. The UK Virtual School podcast plays a key part in our journey to an education revolution. Hosted by our founder Syd, the series covers a plethora of topics about changing the landscape of home education – the UKVS ethos, tips and guides for parents, shifting mindsets, interviews with actual parents and teachers, and many more! Listen to the series and episodes here.